Media or the fourth estate is the backbone of a democracy and it plays a very important role in shaping the discourse of a nation. The term Fourth Estate was coined by Lord Macaulay in 1828 because of the importance the members of the press played as a political force. He described the gallery of the House of Commons in which reporters sit as the 'Fourth Estate of the realm.'
Media in our country has always played a crucial role and the Congress believes that freedom of expression is the cornerstone of democracy in our country. But in this politically charged environment voice of the people, and especially the press, is being muzzled. Journalists who have tried to voice their opinion about the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) or its ideology have been targeted by right wing extremists with some journalists even receiving death threats.
BJP supporters or the Hindu nationalists hounding people, is not a new trend. In the past painter MF Husain was forced to leave India after he received death threats; art galleries have been attacked and books have been banned, the recent example being 'The Hindus, An Alternative History' being withdrawn by its publishers due to pressure from right wing fundamentalists. BJP leader Jaswant Singh's biography of Jinnah was banned by the Narendra Modi administration in Gujarat.
'If any person voices his opinion on social media or any other medium against BJP, or its leaders, then he is threatened. I think after Independence this is the first time that such a thing is happening in our country. The opposition party has a low tolerance level and if someone goes against them they are viciously attacked. The Congress party condemns this,' said AICC communications head Ajay Maken.
Maken said the Congress party condemns this practice of threatening journalists and editors. The Congress general secretary said that in October last year, a female journalist of a leading news paper was given death threats after she wrote an article on Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). The journalist had to file a police complaint. After the article - 'The Forgotten Promise of 1949,' appeared there were protests outside the newspapers' office.
'Recently a monthly magazine published an article which was not appreciated by the BJP and its affiliates, and the editors received death threats. The same thing happened with an editor of a news channel who tweeted something which was not liked by the supporters of BJP,' said Maken.
The Congress general secretary said that NSUI Goa president Hasiba Amin also received similar threats on social media and a malicious campaign was launched against her after she volunteered for a TV advertisement supporting the Congress. Maken said, he has written a letter to Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde requesting him to investigate such incidents on social media.
'The opposition is attacking the freedom of speech and is trying to muzzle the voice of people. One can only imagine what will happen in India if God forbid they come to power,' said Maken. Giving an example of how BJP believes in curtailing the freedom of speech, the Congress general secretary informed that in Gujarat there are only three Information Commissioners in the state despite High Court directive for appointing ten Information Commissioners.
'Human Rights Commission was established in Gujarat in 2004 and till date no CAG reports have been discussed in the Gujarat assembly. Also, there is no functional Lokayukta in Gujarat for the last nine years,' said Maken.
BJP's attack on the freedom of speech has created fear among people as BJP's supporters have been aggressive, intolerant and abusive. This has led to a culture of confrontation where vitiating the social media and other platforms has become the core agenda of the opposition party and its cadres.
We are heading towards a phase where fear will grip every mind and no one holds his head high, and the country will be broken into fragments.